We cannot ignore our thoughts, behaviours and beliefs when it comes to weight loss. Our minds are the elephant in the room. Specifically, there are two areas to talk about here, the first is what happened to us in our past and the second is how we are in the present.
In the 1980s, the dropout rate of participants at Kaiser Permanente’s obesity clinic in San Diego, California, was about 50%; despite all of these people successfully losing weight under the program. Vincent Felitti, head of Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Preventive Medicine, conducted interviews with people who had left the program and discovered that a majority of the 286 people he interviewed had experienced childhood sexual abuse. One of these people said that when she started to lose weight, a man tried to chat her up. Whilst to many this may be flattering but to her, it was threatening. She was sexually abused as a child, and being overweight meant she was overlooked, it was a protection to her. So, to her, and to many more I suspect, being overweight is a way the body and mind protects itself. And not just from sexual abuse but from all kinds of physical and emotional trauma.
Hence if you are going to successfully lose weight and there is an emotional or psychological component to your weight, will it work just focussing on the calories? Maybe it will and maybe it won’t. But if you are struggling to lose weight it may be important to look at this area to help you address any underlying trauma or sense of fear. That does NOT mean you have to revisit the past but it may mean seeing a trained health professional to help you feel a sense of confidence, safety and security in the present.
So that is our past, but what about our present? It is important to note that stress and certain emotional states can contribute to our weight. If you feel unhappy and frequently low then, of course, you are going to seek pleasure even if it is bad for you in the medium to long term. So the question might be – What pain are you trying to fix? In a way you are self-medicating – you are giving yourself an upper, a bit of food, or tv show or whatever to make you feel good just for a second, like a hit. You are trying to give yourself a moment’s disconnection, a moment of peace, a moment of pleasure, or a moment of calmness. However this is short lived and the suffering we are trying to get away from will just come back and sometimes the suffering will be more because of the consequences from the harmful ways we are self-medicating, like too much food or smoking. So it can be important to look at the underlying roots of the pain and seek more complete resolution.
Sometimes life is stressful. It is inevitable that bad things will happen but it seems bad things happen more for some than others. So it comes down to how many ways we have learnt to deal with this stress and underlying emotional challenges. Therefore, we need to focus on developing new coping skills so we don’t need to rely on these destructive behaviours. But this is where counsellors and psychologists can be really helpful, so don’t be embarrassed about that, it is good and normal to need help. I say this many times throughout this course, but humans evolved in tribes, we are designed to need help from others and to help others.